Jordan (2): Aqaba and a night in the dessert in Wadi Rum


We spent 7 days in Jordan. After arriving, we immediately went to the other side of the country, down south, to Aqaba. From there, we went to Wadi Rum, Wadi Musa, Petra, the Dead Sea, and ended up in the capital, Amman. Just enough to get to know the most interesting places in the country and to experience new things.

We arrive in Aqaba on Friday, March 4 in the evening. We check in at the hotel and have a first glimpse of the city.

Located on the Red Sea coast, it opens to tourist traffic, but it’s still far from the seaside resorts you know from Spain or Italy. The public beach is a meeting place for locals. Groups of friends or whole families come here to sit together, eat a sandwich, drink a coffee. All dressed from head to toe. Not a place for half-naked sunbathing.

Public beach in Aqaba.

Locals try to offer tourists some attractions, the most popular being a boat ride with a glass bottom.

Better beaches are in the southern part of the city, but they are located either next to hotels or clubs. They can usually be reached by bus from the center. The cost with travel is about 10 dinars.

Two days in Aqaba

There is not much to explore in the city. Better to prepare for it in advance. When we tried to find tourist information, we couldn’t find. We were sent to a booth in the promenade square but found it closed.

Mamluks’ fortress.

The most interesting is perhaps the Mamluk Fortress, or rather what’s left of it. These are the ruins of the castle from several hundred years ago, but well-preserved. It’s home to the Archaeological Museum, where you can see exhibits from various periods in the history of the city and the region.

Ruins of a church from 300 A.C.

Another monument are the remains of one of the world’s first Christian churches. These remains are, in fact, the knee-high remains of the walls that show the outline of this structure.

Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque.

It is worth visiting the Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque. It’s not a monument, but its architecture is enchanting. We entered its premises thanks to the kindness of the guard. Seeing our curious faces from behind the fence, he called us over with his hand. When he let us in, he indicated that we had a few minutes. And how can you not like Jordanians? Anyway, we got the impression that they are very kind and open-minded people.

There are a lot of restaurants and cafes in Aqaba. In some places you can get a beer cheaper than in Amman – as the city is a duty-free zone. You will easily find also liquor stores. This is quite a surprising sight in Arab countries. You won’t find such shops in other Jordanian cities, not even in the capital.

Enjoying shisha in the evening.

Frankly speaking, I am not fond of alcohol. But, yes, we often sit down for coffee, freshly squeezed juice or ice cream. Of course, they smoke shisha everywhere. Although I don’t smoke, when I’m on a holiday in a Middle Eastern country, shisha is a must.

Night in the desert

On Sunday morning we leave Aqaba for Wadi Rum. It’s an extremely popular place due to the beautiful desert landscapes. They are diversified by various rock formations. Due to these landscapes, many science-fiction films have been shot here, including “Martian” or “Dune”.

Somewhere in Wadi Rum desert.

Admission to the protected area and visitor center is 5 dinars per person. We have this fee included in Jordan Pass. We leave the car in the parking lot at the visitor center. Hasan, one of the brothers who run it, takes us to the camp in the desert where we booked the night.

On the spot, we find a camp consisting of several residential tents and a large tent called a restaurant. The rooms are large, comfortable, with bathrooms. So, if you want to find true Bedouin conditions then do check out the place you plan to stay in beforehand.

There are many similar camps in the area. In addition to accommodation, beautiful landscapes and a starry sky at night, they offer various attractions, including a jeep ride, a camel or horse ride, a sunset excursion, a traditional Bedouin dinner.

Waiting for a camel ride.

We chose camels, which was interesting, because due to the pace of movement, we could admire the surrounding nature, the harsh landscape of the desert and rocks, and enjoy the silence. We take photos like crazy, we shoot short videos because everything is so beautiful here, so majestic. However, after an hour or so, it begins to drag on us. How long can you admire such a monotonous view?

My camel seems to sense my impatience because at the end of the trip it throws me off his back. Fortunately, it ends up with a slight bruise and a little pain that lasts half a day. But now I have something to spice up my story.

During a conversation with Hasan about changes taking place in Jordanian society.

We had extremely interesting conversations with Hasan. We talked not only about what the Bedouin life used to be like, but also about the fact that that world is going away and with the migration of Jordanians to large cities, mainly to Amman, families disintegrate and local traditions disappear.

Attack on a train

The next morning, we set off to Wadi Musa, which is the starting point for Petra – Jordan’s greatest attraction. We get there late in the late afternoon, spontaneously taking advantage of various attractions along the way.

Rebels attack the train.

The first one is an old steam train. First, we think that it has been left at the station to be an attraction for tourists passing by, and we stop to make a few photos. This is a train from the time when the Hijaz railway line operated here.

After a while, however, it turns out that in an hour or so, there will be some kind of staging of the events of 1916. That year, the Arabs launched a revolt against the Ottoman rule, demanding freedom and independence. 

So, we get on one of the open wagons, full of sandbags and a machine gun. And we wait. It takes a while until a bus arrives, packed with some VIPs. In addition, teams with cameras are coming. We suspect that we are attending a media event or making of a promotional movie.

We don’t regret it because we have a great time! The act of stopping a train and kidnapping one of the travelers by the locals looks quite authentic and threatening.

When the Bedouins take the unfortunate man with them, and the VIPs go to dinner at a resort hidden in the desert behind high walls, the train starts on its way back.

Watch a short clip from Wadi Rum on my You Tube channel

Unforgettable moments: my first real horse ride.

On the other side of the road we spot a horse farm. We don’t think long. Luckily for me, they put me on a very calm mare, which is walking calmly, I would say too calmly. No attempt to make her trot helps.

After this ride, we sit down to what the hostess calls a mansaf, which is hardly a mansaf, but it’s difficult for us as foreigners to argue with the locals.

Mansaf is a traditional Arabic lamb dish, cooked in a sauce based on yoghurt or cream, with spices, served with rice or bulgur; you should eat it with your hands, using bread.

We get huge portions of chicken leg with rice, which we can’t handle. At the end, the hostess serves us a Bedouin coffee. Strengthened by this meal, we move on.

Places where we stayed (these are not affiliate links, I am including them here because I can recommend them)

Aqaba: Hotel An-Nahr Al-Khalid (Immortal River), Ar-Razi St.

Wadi Rum: Wadi Rum Camp Stars & jeep tour

Interior of a tent resembles a hotel room.
The camp by night.

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